Burak Sencer, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, researches at the intersection of precision engineering and advanced manufacturing. He seeks to improve the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of manufacturing equipment such as CNC machine tools and industrial manufacturing robots, as well as the manufacturing process itself. On the process side, his work focuses on metal cutting and shaping operations for producing complex parts composed of titanium and hardened steel and other metals that are difficult to machine at high efficiency.

“I want to improve the precision and speed of CNC machine tools and industrial robots,” said Sencer, who directs the Manufacturing Process Control Laboratory. “I also want to improve the manufacturing process through computer modeling that simulates the physics of the manufacturing process.” Such modeling, he added, enables manufacturers to improve the throughput and efficiency of production while avoiding costly mistakes. “This is called the digital manufacturing. When producing complex, expensive parts, such as a jet engine impeller, it’s far better to make a mistake in a computer model – which can be fixed easily – than during production.”

Sencer joined Oregon State in 2015. He earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering at Istanbul Technical University, Turkey, in 2003 and his M.S. and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia, Canada, in 2005 and 2009. After receiving his doctorate, Sencer pursued post-doctoral work at Nagoya University in Japan, where he was also appointed assistant professor of mechanical engineering in 2012.

In addition to his fundamental research projects that are federally funded, Dr. Sencer also collaborates with industries for rapid impact projects. In one project where he is collaborating with a Japanese machine tool builder, Sencer developed a novel motion control technique enabling modern CNC machine tools to produce high volume IT products such as tablets, smartphones and laptops at significantly greater speeds and accuracy. The shell of each IT product starts out as an aluminum block from which numerous features must be cut out one by one – in about fractions of a second. Consider that the cutting tool follows the complex geometry of a product such as an iPhone. When the cutting tool approaches edges, it has to decelerate to make a gentle turn, then accelerate to cut straight sections. “If the change in velocity is too sudden, actually the machine vibrates, which translates to wavy imprints on the finished piece,” said Sencer. “But if the speed change is too slow, the production rate suffers!” He likens the situation to uneven slowing and accelerating in a turning automobile: hit the brakes too hard and passengers feel the discomfort of swaying and jerking forward. Push them too softly and the car slows too much and requires extra energy to regain speed. Just the right amount of brake pressure results in a smooth and efficient ride. It is like a Formula 1 race! “We developed a control algorithm that strikes a balance point for just the right rate of acceleration and deceleration, which allowed the company to improve productivity by 20 to 25 percent,” Sencer said.

In another project, Sencer is developing a new process to remove the shavings – called chips – that peel off metal parts during the turning process. Chips flow onto the cutting edge, creating friction that acts against the sheering force of the operation and causes excess heat and decreased efficiency, Sencer explained. His solution is an assistive device that pulls the chips away from the blade as it comes off the metal and creates less friction. “That makes a big difference in terms of the cutting forces that are applied,” he said. “It could allow for a less powerful knife that requires less energy to operate, which decreases operational costs.” Preliminary results have shown that the device measurably improves process efficiency. In keeping with his aim to create generalized manufacturing solutions, Sencer has designed the tool to be used on a variety of cutting machines.

Sencer also works with aerospace manufacturers such as the Boeing company to develop robots that are capable of deburring large complex metal parts. As of now, deburring to remove rough edges from machined metal is best accomplished by humans. “It’s difficult to automate because humans have a certain feeling and sensitivity necessary to do the work properly,” said Sencer. “Robots don’t yet have that level of sensitivity, and when you’re making parts for the aerospace industry, there’s no margin for error.” To find an automated deburring solution, Sencer has attached sensors to people to record their motions and measure the pressure they apply when deburring. “Then we develop algorithms to direct the robot to apply the same forces so they can deburr as well as humans,” he explained, noting that his lab has built a small robot to test his ideas and continue the research.

Sencer is highly motivated by projects that hold the promise of making a major impact quickly. “I like working with industry because there’s often an immediate affect,” he said. “Long-term research that looks 15 or 20 years down the road can be amazing, but I prefer projects where we can apply the results applied in a relatively short time and I can see their impact on people’s lives.”

In his teaching, Sencer enjoys the intellectual give and take with students. “I sometimes learn from them,” he said, “which is something that happens more frequently as my graduate students evolve toward their later stages of their Ph.D.s and start to challenge what I’ve written on the white board.” It is a great feeling!

— Steve Frandzel

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